I was sitting in the credit manager’s office at my local Ford dealership, signing papers. I had just bought a car — my first new one, ever. It was a really cool 2014 model with lots of bells and whistles.
The salesman who sold it to me popped his head in the door. “What’s the name of your insurance company?” he asked me. “I need to call them in order to change over your license plates. It only takes a few minutes. Once that’s done, you can drive your new car home today.”
I knew the name of my insurance company because I had just spoken to a representative about my policy earlier in the day.
“It’s ... it’s ...” Oh, God, this is no time to be having a senior moment, I thought. I remembered it started with a “C.” My pre-frontal lobe was racing: “Commonwealth? Continental? Carefree?” Close, but no cigar.
“I’m sorry,” I finally said. “But I can’t think of it.” The salesman told me not to worry. “Go home and get it and come back,” he said. It was late afternoon and getting dark. I told him I’d return tomorrow.
As frustrated as I was, I can only be thankful for this embarrassing loss of memory. It wound up bringing me other gains.
The salesman and I had agreed on a price that was within my budget. But by the time I got out of the credit manager’s office, it had ballooned by $5,000.
I didn’t sleep that night. Although I needed a new car — my old one could no longer pass inspection — I couldn’t justify what I had ultimately agreed to pay. Money was tight. What was I thinking?
But it was too late to make a U-turn, or so I thought.
The first thing in the morning I phoned Chris, my financial adviser. He loves cars. At last count, he has eight of them. He had been urging me to trade in my beater. “You’re 65. You’ve never had a new car. Go for it,” he told me. I think of Chris as a wise old dad, only he’s half my age.
I told him what I had paid and that I was panicking. “Did you drive the car off the lot?” he calmly asked me.
“No, I couldn’t remember the name of my insurance company.”
“Whew!” he said, “Then you don’t have to take it.”
Chris proceeded to give me a crash course in car buying and negotiating. Boy, had I been a sucker. Although I got a rebate, I didn’t get a discount. They’re two different things, he explained.
“Did you take the extended warranty?” Chris asked me.
“Yes,” I said. “The credit manager said I’d never have repair costs again.”
“Was he a nice elderly guy in a gray suit?”
“How did you know?”
“Every car dealership has one. They’re the real sharks. ”
“I’ll call you back,” Chris said, hanging up. An hour later, he called to say he’d been phoning other dealerships in the area. He found one that would sell me the exact same car for what I originally wanted to pay.
With that knowledge, I phoned my dealership. I told the sales manager that I wanted to renegotiate the contract. I told him my price.
“No way,” he said.
I told him I was going to his competitor.
“I’ll get back to you,” he said.
A few minutes later he did just that. “I have some great news! I’ve reworked some figures, and we can match it after all.”
My feelings about buying the car immediately shifted from remorse to joy. It wasn’t just the car I was pleased with. It was myself. I learned I didn’t have to settle. As the customer, I was in the driver’s seat.
That afternoon, I was back in the credit manager’s office. After reading up on extended warranties, I decided they are rip-offs. “I don’t want it,” I told the nice elderly guy in the gray suit. “At $1800, it’s too expensive.”
“You mean to tell me you can’t afford $1 a day?” he asked incredulously. “Why, everyone takes the extended warranty, even my wife. Do you want to someday be paying a garage mechanic? Do you realize how much they charge? Tell me again why you won’t take it.”
I remained silent. Chris told me I’d lose the power if I got into a debate.
When the credit manager realized I wasn’t budging on my decision, his affable smile became a mean frown. He looked like Chucky.
What I didn’t know then, and have since found out, is that the credit manager gets a 40 percent commission on extended warranties.
Once I had finished signing all the new paperwork, the salesman who sold me the car popped his head in the office again. “Don’t forget, I’ll need the name of that insurance company,” he said.
“It’s Commerce,” I replied, without hesitating.
My short-term memory knows what it’s doing.